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Dentistry might appeal to you if you want to improve people’s wellness and oral health. It’s a hands-on profession that often calls for creative problem-solving. Dentistry can also be an ideal path to owning your own practice, setting your own schedule, and earning a six-figure income.
But there’s one big drawback to a career in dentistry: dental school debt. Here’s what you need to consider before taking out loans for school.
Average dental school debt and ROI
For many considering dental school, a dentist’s high earning potential is a big draw.
“I think the costs of dental school are worth the benefits — you can make a very good living of it,” said Jason Cabler, DDS, a dentist who’s been practicing for 24 years and oversees the personal finance blog Celebrating Financial Freedom.
The median pay for dentists is $153,900, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. New dental school graduates won’t be earning this much right away. But they will start with relatively high pay, with a median entry-level salary of $118,800, according to PayScale.
The biggest reasons to think twice about dental school, however, are the costs and dental school debt. Still, you’re looking forward to big earnings.
Before deciding to attend dental school, research the costs and project your financial outcomes. “Get serious about repaying [your debt] — dentistry can be a stressful profession, and debt will just add to that stress,” said Cabler.
Lost earnings while in dental school: $220,000
Dental school isn’t just an investment of your time. You’re also missing out on potential income. A typical graduate with a bachelor’s of science in chemistry (a common major for pre-dental undergraduates) can expect a typical salary of $55,000 annually, per PayScale.
But a graduate who chooses to use her time attending dental school will lose out on those earnings. Typical lost earnings would be around $220,000 over the four years it takes to earn a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree.
Average dental school debt: $261,149
Then there’s the matter of paying for dental school. Students often have to borrow heavily to cover tuition, fees, and equipment or supplies needed for their studies.
It’s not uncommon to take out student loans to cover living costs while attending dental school full-time, either. Because of this, the average dental school debt was $261,149 for the graduating class of 2016, according to the American Dental Education Association.
Here are some more stats on average dental school debt:
- A borrower with the average dental school debt of $261,149, who borrowed at the Grad PLUS rate of 6.31%, faces a monthly payment of $2,940.
- This same borrower would pay $91,664 in interest on this debt, for a total cost of $352,813.
- It’s rare to make it out of dental school with no or little debt; only one in five 2016 dental school graduates had dental school debt under $100,000.
- Among dental school graduates with debt, 30 percent owed more than $300,000.
Dentists make back their $570,000 investment in 8 years
Between missed earnings, student debt principal, and interest, a dental school graduate can count on sinking about $570,000 into dental school. But that investment also buys dental school graduates a spot in a high-paying profession. So how long does this investment take to start paying off?
The return on investment will depend, of course, on how much a new dentist is paid. Dentists who graduate and are able to find high-paying jobs will see a return on their dental school investment much faster.
Let’s compare the typical entry-level salary of $118,800 with the $55,000 average salary of a chemist with a bachelor’s degree. Assuming a five percent increase in earnings each year, here’s how the earnings compare:
|Dentist salary||Bachelor’s salary||Difference||Total return|
As shown in the table above, it takes about eight years on average for a dentist’s increased earning potential to offset the cost of dental school. However, by that point, the investment in dental school is also generating an impressive $90,000 extra in income each year.
5 Questions to figure out if dental school debt is worth it
Now you’ve seen the typical dental school return on investment. But these numbers are not the whole picture. There are other factors to consider besides just your bottom line. And a central concern should be managing dental school debt.
Here are five questions you should consider when weighing your personal dental school ROI:
1. Will dentistry make me happy?
Danny Masters, DDS, is a recent dental school graduate who blogs about his journey out of student debt at Red Two Green. He said that the decision to go to dental school had more to do with his dream of becoming a dentist than earning a high income.
“I am confident that you can earn a lot of money as a dentist, but because it is so expensive, that shouldn’t be the only factor,” Masters said. “From a purely financial perspective, I think there are lots of other jobs you can get or create and earn six figures without investing half a million.”
Cabler agrees that dentistry won’t be the right career for everyone. For those considering dental school, he suggests getting an idea of what the job is like.
“I made friends with my dentist, for instance, and went in and hung out with him in his practice as much as I could to see what it is all about,” he said. “I had a good idea of what I was walking into, but some people don’t.”
2. Can I limit dental school debt?
You should also consider whether you can limit your dental school debt. If you can reduce the amount of debt you take on, it can have a huge effect on your finances for at least 10 years after graduation.
Masters ended up graduating with $570,000 in combined graduate and dental school debt — a high balance that he said was the result of not living on a budget while in dental school. He wishes he’d done more to limit his dental school debt and had some suggestions for how those attending can do so:
- Get used to living on a budget. “Start now by living on a budget and get used to that lifestyle until your loans are paid off,” Masters said.
- Downsize your expenses. Consider switching to a cheaper apartment or even moving back in with parents while in school.
- Choose a low-cost dental school. “Sometimes you don’t have many options in terms of what dental schools you are accepted to,” Masters said. “But aim for the best schools with the smallest price tag,” both when applying and choosing your dental school. For instance, in-state public dental schools will be less costly than private dental schools.
- Borrow only what you need. Student loans are not free money, so resist the temptation to treat them that way. Only take out student loans for the amounts you need to cover tuition and bare necessities, even if you could borrow more.
- Get someone else to pay for dental school. Apply for every scholarship you can find. Consider participating in programs like National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the armed forces that offer tuition assistance for a work commitment.
3. Is student loan forgiveness really an option?
In addition to limiting dental school debt, students should also make a plan to repay student loans. Don’t assume you can have your student loans forgiven.
“Many classmates would say things in passing like, ‘Eh, we’ll just apply for student loan forgiveness,’” Masters recalled. “But [student loan forgiveness] really is a complicated decision and fairly uncharted territory.”
Programs offering student loan forgiveness for dentists have specific rules for eligibility. You can see a full list of these programs in our guide to student loan forgiveness for dentists.
Qualifying for student loan forgiveness might require a dentist to move — often to rural areas — for a lower pay. Deciding whether to trade a high income for forgiveness is not a cut-and-dry decision.
4. What are my dental school debt repayment options?
Look into other options to keep dental school debt affordable:
- Private student loans might offer lower interest rates than what you’d get on federal Grad PLUS loans.
- Income-driven repayment plans can lower high monthly payments based on your income, to keep them affordable.
- Refinancing dental school loans can be another option to lower your interest rates and monthly payments after dental school. For example, SoFi has a special refinancing offer for medical and dental residents.
With each option, think carefully about potential tradeoffs. For example, Masters said he hopes to refinance his debt to reduce the interest he pays. But he wants to wait until he’s sure he can afford the monthly payments that would be as high as $7,000 for a 10-year term.
“You lose protections when you refinance, so when you have as much debt as we do, it’s a good idea to have sure footing going into it,” he said.
5. Can I aggressively pay down student debt?
The above options can be helpful in managing student debt. But for dentists looking to maximize their dental school ROI, working to pay down student debt fast will be one of the best ways to do so. For each student loan you pay off, you free up cash flow and reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.
Maximizing your earning potential can help you generate extra income to put toward student loans, too. For instance, you might choose to pursue high-paying dental specialties.
You might also work toward owning your own practice. Private practitioners often earn higher incomes and have more growth opportunities than dentists working with a dental service organization.
With a dentist’s high pay, it will still be a challenge — but doable. “When you get out of school you’re going to be making a good bit of money,” Cabler says. “But I recommend that for the first two or three years after school, live like you’re still in dental school and put every extra penny towards student loans.”
If this is your goal, refinancing dental school debt can be a smart strategy. If you can get lower interest rates, more of your payments will go toward actually lowering your principal and paying off the loan.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.
Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.
All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.57% – 6.97%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.47% – 6.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.68% – 8.77%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.24% – 6.66%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.61% – 7.35%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.01% – 9.75%6||Undergrad & Graduate|